Rising 20m above the surrounding flat Konya plains, the East Mound at Çatalhöyük is one of the most important, and largest, Neolithic settlements on earth. About 9500 years ago, up to 8000 people lived here, and the mound comprises 13 levels of buildings, each containing around 1000 structures. Little remains of the ancient centre other than the two excavation areas, which draw archaeologists from all over the world.
If you visit between June and September, when the digs mostly take place, you might find an expert to chat to. At other times, the museum does a good job of explaining the site and the excavations, which began in 1961 under British archaeologist James Mellaart and have continued with the involvement of the local community. Mellaart's controversial theories about mother-goddess worship here caused the Turkish government to close the site for 30 years.
Near the museum entrance stands the experimental house, a reconstructed mud-brick hut used to test various theories about Neolithic culture. People at Çatalhöyük lived in tightly packed dwellings that were connected by ladders between the roofs instead of streets, and were filled in and built over when they started to wear out. Skeletons were found buried under the floors and most of the houses may have doubled as shrines. The settlement was highly organised, but there are no obvious signs of any central government system.
From the museum you can then walk across the mound to the dome-covered north shelter where excavation work has uncovered the remains of several buildings with their outlines still visible. A short trail then leads to the south shelter. With 21m of archaeological deposits, many of the site's most famous discoveries were made here. The lowest level of excavation, begun by Mellaart, is the deepest at Çatalhöyük and holds deposits left more than 9000 years ago. There are information panels on the viewing platforms of both excavation areas that help you decipher the site.
To get here by public transport from Konya, 33km northwest, get the Karkın minibus, which leaves the Karatay Terminal (also called Eski Garaj) at 7am, 9.30am and 4.50pm on weekdays. Get off at the village of Küçük Köy (₺8, 45 minutes) and walk to the site on the village edge, or you may be able to persuade the driver to take you the whole way. Going back, minibuses leave Küçük Köy at 7.15am, 3pm and 7pm. Getting there by bus at the weekend is much harder: there are buses at 9am and midday on Saturdays and none on Sundays.
A taxi from Konya to the site and back, including waiting time, will cost about ₺150.